Community Engagement at GDIF in Woolwich
Rise! was a spectacular processional performance that took place in Woolwich town centre on Saturday the 23 June 2018. It celebrated the centenary of the Representation of the People’s Act, the law that allowed some women and all men the right to vote in the UK. Rise! was a celebration of local and global stories of women.
The story of the show was this: a giant woman puppet arrives in Woolwich, accompanied by a beautiful bird of freedom. On her long travels, she gathered stories of women from around the world. To help illustrate local women’s stories, we had a massive community engagement element to the show, beginning with a troupe of volunteer puppeteers, who were an essential part of making the show happen.
The puppets were almost like the thread that tied all of the participation together:
B40 Youth Dance Company welcomed the giant woman puppet to Woolwich as the starting point to the show. The company provided an atmospheric soundtrack that the young women responded to through improvised dance. Once the puppet joined the group amidst a cloud of purple mist, the dancers accompanied the puppets throughout the rest of the procession.
At Beresford Square, the giant woman puppet met the adolescent puppet and a couple women representatives of the town. Local poet and activist Rasheeda Paige-Muir performed her original poem, commissioned by GDIF, about the women of Woolwich, and Cllr Denise Hyland, the former leader of Royal Greenwich Borough Council, welcomed both puppets to Woolwich and pinned a massive sash in suffragette colours with the words ‘Women of Woolwich Rise!’
The puppets moved on from Beresford Square and at Powis Street, a jet of pyro announced the arrival of the placards, carried by members of the community and passed out to audience members. The placards featured portraits of local women, from the past and from today. Leading up to the show, GDIF ran a campaign in which anyone could nominate a woman with a connection to Woolwich, who they thought deserved to be celebrated. The list was hugely diverse, from women CEOS through to a 10 month old who had been nominated by her mother. The nominated women, and the people who carried them, were from all walks of life: some placards were carried by daughters who had nominated their mothers; today’s Mayor of Greenwich Borough carried the first woman mayor’s placard; workers carried their colleague’s placards; we even had a whole group from the Woolwich Singers who had nominated their leader.
The procession ended on a high at General Gordon Square with a sharing of food, a pyrotechnic display that featured Nupur Dance, who raised the roof with their Bollywood performance with the puppets joining in the dance behind them.
Photos by Doug Southall / Pepper Pictures